What I learned travelling solo

In 2011, I went to Florida with two friends and the conversation turned to the topic of travelling alone. Laura was shocked when I said I'd probably be happy to visit a foreign country solo but I wasn't sure if I ever would. Five years on, I did it! I spent a week in Austria completely on my own and, despite my confidence, I amazed myself at how well I did! As you can probably imagine, I learned a lot so if you're thinking of giving it a go yourself, read on...

What I learned travelling alone in Austria
YOU REALLY ARE ALONE

This sounds ridiculous, I know, but until you experience it, you don't realise how many differences there are when it comes to travelling alone. Need the toilet at the airport? Forget it- there's no chance you're fitting a cabin bag in those cubicles and there's nobody to keep an eye on your bag. You don't know hell until you've tried picking up some last minute bits in a horrifically badly-planned Boots dragging a case behind you. 

Then there's the flight itself. Having ridiculously short arms, and zero upper body strength to boot, I normally need my travel buddy to help me get my case out of the bin. This time, I was determined to do it myself and not resort to asking strangers for help. I did it... but dropped it on my boob and ended up with a bruise that lasted longer than the holiday. 

Don't get me started with my phone breaking on the first morning and having absolutely nothing to guide me through my trip when I left the hotel- no clock (or alarm), no maps, no way to contact Rich... Thankfully I was able to locate a place to fix it but it would have been much less stressful if I could fall back on somebody else's device!

All these little things that you don't even consider when you're with someone but become glaringly apparent when you have nobody to help you with.

EVERY MISTAKE IS YOUR FAULT

Normally I'll blame Rich for everything when we're on holiday. Either he made the mistake or he should have noticed the mistake I made and pointed it out! When you're alone, there's nobody else to blame. Forgot to take cash out and end up eating in a cash-only restaurant? Your fault! Take a wrong turn and end up walking in a 10 minute loop? Your fault! End up at the wrong train station and have to leg it across the city to reach the correct one in time for your train? Guess what? Your fault! The bonus of this is that there is nobody around to know you've made these mistakes... Unless you write it in a blog post, of course! 

PHOTOS OF YOURSELF ARE TOUGH

I'd prepared for this in advance. I'd read posts from solo travellers on photography tips, bought a mini tripod and selfie stick, built up my confidence to ask strangers... and then it didn't happen. I used my tripod and selfie stick exactly once (although I took both everywhere with me) and I only asked one person to take a photo for me (but then I was up a mountain- Did I mention that?). There's no way around it- it's much easier to get photos of yourself if you have a buddy. Not that it's impossible if you're alone, of course, but it definitely requires a lot more planning.

THE FREEDOM IS EXHILARATING

For some reason, I have a compulsive need to apologise to whoever I'm with for whatever I want to do. "Sorry, do you mind if we pop in here?" "Sorry, can we sit down for a bit?" "Sorry, I'll be done in a minute". Far from being polite, it drives my friends crazy but I can't shake off that feeling of inconveniencing people. When you're alone, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want and feel absolutely no guilt! Want to wake up at 6am for a full day walking tour? Go for it! Rather sleep in until 2pm? No problem! I'd imagine some could feel a bit overwhelmed by the choice but for me, it was pure bliss. The freedom to change my plans at the last minute and spend as long as I wanted in each place without worrying about somebody else may sound selfish but I don't care. I lapped up every second!

Another bonus is that you see more. Walking around a city in the midst of conversation is great but when you're alone, you really take it all in. It's amazing what you can pick up. I gathered that cash points in Austria are signposted with a green and blue sign above- very handy! Then there was the McDonald's in the old shopping street with a traditional wrought iron sign above. I would never have noticed these things if my focus had been on somebody else.

MORE CONFIDENCE

To be honest, I was fairly confident before I went anyway. I'm perfectly happy in my own company and as I'd been to Salzburg, I knew the area and felt safe there. However, my main problem was having to communicate with other people. The first time I went to Austria, I allowed Rich to do all the talking, despite the fact I know some passable German and he knows absolutely zero. I found myself whispering hurried translations to him. Yes, it's ridiculous but I was terrified of trying to speak German to native speakers. This time, I had no choice. 

My self-esteem wasn't exactly bolstered when I strolled up to the hotel receptionist, confidently asked "Sprichst du Englisch?" and was met with a blank stare and a confused "Sorry?". It really knocked me back but I couldn't just hide in the hotel room all week. I got out there and kept speaking German. At first, I just asked if they spoke English and then continued in English when they inevitably did. By the end, however, I was placing entire food orders in German, specifying no tomatoes and feeling absolutely invincible when my meal arrived completely devoid of tomatoes! Next time, I'll let Rich sit back while I do all the talking (maybe)

MY ADVICE

I absolutely loved my trip and, although travelling with someone is fun, I'd be very happy to go abroad solo again if the opportunity arises. I'd be more likely to go somewhere German-speaking rather than, say, French (my French is on a par with Joey from Friends) but I'd be very comfortable. If you're thinking of it yourself, this is what I would advise:

Take cash everywhere Remember that part about forgetting to get cash and ending up stuck in restaurants? It was ok- the waiter very patiently counted every coin in my purse and by what can only be divine intervention, I had the precise amount. Still, it would have been easier if I had some extra cash so learn from my mistake and make sure you have a good few notes every time you walk past a cashpoint.

Take a spare phone This may sound excessive, especially if you're lacking space in your hand luggage, but I promise it will be worth it. If your phone gets broken, lost or stolen, you'll have a spare to hand. It will solve so much stress! 

If you're unsure, ask! Lost? Don't understand the menu? Want a photo of yourself? Just ask! For general requests, I would ask those who were obvious tourists as they're usually more than happy to help out. For questions that need a local, try those working in tourist attractions. It helps to learn how to ask "Do you speak English?" in the language of your destination- it's just good manners! 

My week away was one of the best experiences of my life and I'm so glad I did it. I learned a huge amount about both travelling and myself. In fact, the only bad thing was that it wasn't long enough... and the boob bruise, of course! 
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7 comments:

  1. Some great tips there! I really want to go travelling by myself (although the place I want to visit is English-speaking - Nick would never go there out of choice though so I'd have to do it on my own) and am taking notes for when that trip happens...

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  2. I'm glad to have strolled along this post :) I've always fancied solo travelling but have been going through issues with anxiety over the past couple of years, so it's been on the back burner..but I definitely feel more encouraged to it now. Better late than never!
    Life inside the Locket

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  3. I speak a decent level of German and when I went solo to Berlin a few months back I attempted to speak German in public (yay social anxiety) and the waiter spoke back in English and embarrassed me! Turns out I could however ask for IBS medicine in a pharmacy auf Deutsch though!

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  4. Some really good tips, I don't think I could go completely alone somewhere else though but then I am a massive wuss

    Mel ★ www.meleaglestone.co.uk

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  5. That's an amazing post! Although I've never travelled solo yet I am really looking forward to trying it once. :-) Thank you for this post.:-)

    Lucie // www.inbluebox.com

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  6. The freedom is what makes me want to travel solo - just doing whatever I want! I'll often disappear for a while on family holidays just exploring on my own. Nothing better! Really enjoyed reading this post, it makes me want to get out alone even more ha!

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  7. I will probably be doing a lot of solo travels starting next year so this post was incredibly handy! x

    Rai | utterardour.blogspot.com

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